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Donner Party

Rescuers and Others

When word got out of the Donner Party's plight, American settlers in Northern California rallied to save them. Some shouldered heavy packs and risked their lives trudging up into the Sierra, braving blizzards, hunger, exhaustion, and frostbite to bring the sufferers out of the mountains. We must not forget, however, that their heroism would have been in vain without the assistance of many others who contributed money, food, clothing, horses, and other supplies, or who transported provisions, maintained supply camps, brought the emigrants from the midway camps to the settlements, and opened their homes to the survivors.

For first-hard accounts of the Donner relief, see the First Relief, Second Relief, and Fourth Relief diaries.


Name Age Relief Party Name Age Relief Party
Adolph Bruheim [26] First Relief Riley Septimus Moutrey [22] First Relief
Charles L. Cady 23 Second Relief Howard Oakley [?] Third Relief
Nicholas Clark [30] Second Relief Edward Gantt Pyle, Sr. 61 Auxiliary
Edward "Ned" Coffeemeyer [36] First & Fourth Reliefs Edward Gantt Pyle, Jr. 22 Auxiliary
William Coon [?] Auxiliary James F. Reed 46 Second Relief
Matthew Dofar [?] Second Relief Daniel Rhoads 25 First Relief
Patrick H. Dunn [?] Second Relief John Pierce Rhoads 28 First & Fourth Reliefs
William H. Eddy [30] Third Relief Matthew Dill Ritchie 41 Auxiliary
William O. Fallon [?] Fourth Relief William Dill Ritchie 19 Auxiliary
William M. Foster 31 Third & Fourth Reliefs Joseph Sels [?] Fourth Relief
Joseph Gendreau [?] Second Relief John Sinclair [?] Host
Aquilla Glover [40] First Relief John Schull Stark 30 Third Relief
Brittain Greenwood [17-20] Second Relief Charles Stone [?] Second Relief
Caleb Greenwood 84 Auxiliary John Augustus Sutter 44 Supplier, Host
William Johnson [?] Supplier, Host William Thompson [?] Third Relief
Edward Meyer Kern [23] Paymaster George W. Tucker 15 Auxiliary
Sebastian Keyser [36] Fourth Relief Reason P. Tucker 40 First & Fourth Reliefs
Perry McCoon [25] Auxiliary John Turner [?] Second Relief
William McCutchen [30] Second Relief Joseph Verrot [36] Auxiliary; Second Relief
Hiram Owens Miller [29] Second Relief Selim Edward Woodworth 32 Second Relief

Adolph Bruheim

Age [25]

       Adolph Bruheim or Brueheim was 21 when he came to California in 1842. In 1845-46 he was recorded as working for Theodor Cordua at Neu Mecklenburg near the present site of Marysville. A document in the Fort Sutter Papers clears up a minor mystery: in September 1846 Edward Kern and James Adolph Bruheim signed an agreement that Kern would furnish a horse and pay ten dollars a week to Bruheim for delivering correspondence between Sacramento and Sonoma. Although the document is signed only "Adolph Bruheim," the use of "James Adolph" in the body of the letter and Kern's other references to his courier as "Jim" confirm  that the "Greasy Jim" mentioned in J. Q. Thornton's Oregon and California in 1848 must have been Bruheim.
       On February 5, 1847, Bruheim set out with the First Relief; after a week he and two others went back while seven continued on. According to Kern's records, Bruheim was employed to butcher cattle and to carry provisions from Johnson's Ranch to Bear Valley. He served a total of 48 days, from January 31, 1847, to March 19, at $1.50 per day, earning $72.00.  Bruheim's life after his participation in the Donner relief is a mystery, but historian H. H. Bancroft believed that he may have been living in San Francisco under another name.

Charles Lewis Cady

Age: 23
Second Relief

       Charles L. Cady was born in Buffalo, New York, on 19 Sept 1824. James F. Reed refers to Cady, Nicholas Clark, and Charles Stone as "the boys"-- young, active men who arrived at the camps 24 hours before the other members of the relief.
       When Reed left the camps, three of his men were detailed to stay and tend the few emigrants left in the mountains until the next relief arrived. Cady and Nicholas Clark were with the Donners at Alder Creek, Charles Stone at the lake camp. While Clark was out hunting, Stone visited Alder Creek and spoke with Cady. When the men decided to quit the mountains, Tamzene Donner saw a chance to save her three little girls. The men agreed to rescue them, but only took them as far as the Murphy cabin. They themselves probably sheltered in the abandoned Breen cabin during the violent snowstorm that beset Reed's party in Summit Valley. When the weather cleared the two men lit out, leaving behind the children they had promised to rescue. By the time they caught up with Reed, Cady's feet were frostbitten; he lost several toes.
       After the Donner disaster, Cady established a courier service to deliver mail between San Francisco and Sutter's Fort via Sonoma and Sausalito, and in 1848-49 kept a store in Coloma in partnership with John Shannon. In the spring of 1879 Cady was in the Calistoga area and visited W. C. Graves, who sent information from Cady to historian C. F. McGlashan.

Nicholas Clark

Age: 30
Second Relief

Parents: William Clark and Rachel Ward

b. August 10, 1816 in Petersham, Worcester Co., MA
m1. abt 1834; wife died in childbirth
m2. 1841

       A shoemaker by trade, Clark had already lived a life of adventure before he joined the second Donner relief party. (See his biographical sketch for more information.) The Second Relief appointed Clark to remain at Alder Creek to help Baptiste look after the Donners until they could be rescued. During his stay, Clark killed a bear cub weighing some seventy pounds, a welcome source of food.
       After the great storm of early March, Clark visited the lake camp to see how the emigrants there had fared. He returned to Tamzene Donner with the news that her daughters were at the Murphy cabin (also inhabited by Levinah Murphy, her son Simon, and Louis Keseberg) and were "in danger of a death more violent than starvation." When Eddy and Foster arrived with the Third Relief, Clark and Baptiste decided to leave with them. This desertion has been thoroughly condemned, but Tamzene Donner refused to go and her husband George, with his dangerously infected hand, could probably not have been rescued. Clark no doubt figured he had done as much as he could and that his own life would be in danger if he stayed. Charges that he robbed the Donners are less easy to account for.
       Nicholas Clark became a noted pioneer in the Honey Lake area of Lassen County.

Edward "Ned" Coffeemeyer

Age: [36]
First and Fourth Reliefs

       Sailor. After returning with the Fourth Relief, Coffeemeyer told such gruesome stories about Louis Keseberg's cannibalism that Keseberg sued him for slander, and won. Coffeemeyer bought some items from the estates of George and Jacob Donner at an auction at Sutter's Fort on June 3, 1847. He lingered in the general area of Sutter's Fort for nearly a year, for he is mentioned several times in the New Helvetia Diary up until March 1848, but after that he simply disappears from the historical record.

William Coon

Age: ?
First Relief auxiliary

       Overland emigrant of 1846 about whom virtually nothing is known. Coon stayed in the base camp in the foothills with George Tucker, who remembered him as a half-wit who only knew how to eat and sleep.

Matthew Dofar

Age: ?
Second Relief

       Mountain man about whom little else is known.

Patrick H. Dunn

Age: ?
Second Relief

       According to H. H. Bancroft, Dunn was a native of Maine who arrived in California on a whaler in 1846 and went to the Sonoma area, where he was recruited for the Second Relief. As a result of his participation in the Donner rescue, Dunn lost some toes to frostbite. In later years He went to southern California where he got into trouble: he joined a gang of desperados and was tried twice for murder. In 1857 Dunn went to Arizona, where he died several years later.

William H. Eddy

Age: [29]
Third Relief

       A member of the Donner Party (see his biographical entry), Eddy survived the Forlorn Hope. After six weeks' recuperation Eddy attempted to join the Second Relief in early March but had to turn back. A few weeks later, however, he and fellow Forlorn Hope survivor William Foster led the Third Relief to the camps. Eddy knew that his his wife and daughter had died, but hoped -- in vain -- to find his son James still alive.

William O. Fallon

Age: ?
Fourth Relief

         A mountain man and a mountain of a man, William Fallon or O'Fallon was known as "Le Gros" because of his huge size. He was "as spry as a cat," a noted horseman who could mount a horse on the run or pick a coin from the ground as he galloped by. Fallon was active in many parts of the West from the 1820s into the 1840s. The landmark O'Fallons Bluff on the Platte is sometimes said to have been named for him.
       In June 1846 Fallon participated in the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma, recruited men for the California Battalion in October, and went south with them. By the spring of 1847 he was back in northern California and assumed the leadership of the Fourth Relief. His account of the expedition was published in the California Star on June 5, 1847. The late Joseph A. King dismissed Fallon's report as a fraud, but despite its animosity towards Louis Keseberg, Keseberg himself confirms much of what Fallon says.
         In 1847 Fallon was among the companions of Gen. Stephen Watts Kearney, who was returning east. The next year, on his way back to California, Fallon and a single companion set out from Fort Hall. Their mutilated bodies were found alongside the trail some weeks later.    

William McFadden Foster

Age: 31
Third and Fourth Reliefs

       A member of the Donner Party (see his biographical entry) and survivor of the Forlorn Hope, Foster returned to the lake camp with the Third Relief to rescue his son George, only find that the boy had died and been cannibalized. Foster, the only surviving adult male of the extended Murphy family, made a second trip back to the mountains with the Fourth Relief, no doubt to salvage what property he could from the ruins.

Joseph Gendreau

Age: ?
Second Relief

       Gendreau -- spelled variously as Gendrou, Jaundro, and Jondrieux in the records -- was a member of the Second Relief. François Gendreau, a Canadian employee of Sutter's, is mentioned several times in the New Helvetia Diary. His wife was a Walla Walla Indian; one of their children was buried at the San Jose Mission in 1844. Bancroft was uncertain whether it was François or his son who went to the rescue, but the Donner relief documents make it clear that it was the son, Joseph.

Aquilla Glover

Age: [40]
First Relief

b. abt 1817 in KY
m. 1844 in MO to Mary Jane Lemon (b. 17 Jan 1824 in MO)
d. 13 Nov 1849 Georgetown, CA

       Overland emigrant of 1846; with Reason Tucker, a leader of the First Relief. When Tommy and Patty Reed gave out and had to be taken back to the Breen cabin, Glover made a solemn vow to their mother, on his word as a Mason, that he would go back and get them. She trusted him and consented to let the children go. Glover served 43 days in the Donner relief at $3.00 per day.
       In 1849 Glover went to gold fields and died there of pneumonia; according to tradition, his health had been weakened by his exertions during the Donner rescue. Glover left three sons, two of whom died young. The youngest, James, was born six weeks after his father's death. Mary Jane Lemon Glover, Aquilla's widow, married David E. Gish in 1852 and had eleven more children, including a son named Aquilla after her deceased first husband. Many years later Mrs. Gish provided information for Riley Moutrey's petition to Congress for compensation.

Britton Bailey Greenwood

Age: [17-20]
Second Relief

       Son of famed mountain man Caleb Greenwood and his wife Batchicka, a Crow Indian woman. "Brit" Greenwood gave conflicting information about his age to census takers and voting registrars over the years, but evidently he was born between 1827 and 1830 somewhere in the Missouri River watershed.
       Like other rescuers, Brit survived the terrible blizzard that halted the Second Relief at Starved Camp, but his feet were permanently injured by frostbite. Afterwards Brit settled on the California coast in Mendocino County with other members of his family; they gave their name to the town of Greenwood, Greenwood Cove, and Greenwood State Beach. Even though the name of the town (pop 250) was officially changed to Elk back in 1887, some of the locals still insist on calling it Greenwood, in defiance of bureaucracy.
       More information about Brit, including two photos, can be found in Old Greenwood: The Story of Caleb Greenwood, Trapper, Pathfinder, and Early Pioneer (Georgetown, CA: Talisman, 1965), by Charles Kelly and Dale L. Morgan.

Caleb Greenwood

Age: 83

         Mountain man. He was trapping with John Turner and others near Clear Lake when they met Edwin Bryant on November 2, 1846:

Mr. Greenwood, or "Old Greenwood," as he is familiarly called, according to his own statement, is 83 years of age, and has been a mountain trapper between 40 and 50 years. He lived among the Crow Indians, where he married his wife, between thirty and forty years. He is about six feet in height, raw-boned and spare in flesh, but muscular, and, notwithstanding his old age, walks with all the erectness and elasticity of youth. His dress was of tanned buckskin, and from its appearance one would suppose its antiquity to be nearly equal to the age of its wearer. It had probably never been off his body since he first put it on.

"Old Greenwood" helped round up assistance but did not go up to the camps. For more information about Greenwood and his remarkable career, see Charles Kelly and Dale L. Morgan, Old Greenwood: The Story of Caleb Greenwood, Trapper, Pathfinder, and Early Pioneer (Georgetown, CA: Talisman, 1965).

William Johnson

Age: [28/32]
Host, supplier

       Surprisingly little is known for certain about William Johnson. He was an English sailor out of Boston who first came to California about 1840 as the mate of the Alciope. In 1845 he and Sebastian Keyser bought the Gutiérrez ranch on the Bear River, about two miles east of modern Wheatland, California. Johnson's  humble home, a two-room log and adobe structure, was the American settlement closest to the mountains and became a looked-for goal of overland emigrants. He allowed several families of 1846 overlanders to stay on his ranch for the winter, and it was there that an emaciated William Eddy staggered out of the foothills to seek help for the Donner Party. Johnson donated beef and wheat to the relief parties, for which his ranch was the staging point.
       On June 24, 1847, William Johnson married young Mary Murphy of the Donner Party, but she divorced the "drunken sot" after a few months; the story goes that Johnson refused to give up his Indian wives when he married Mary. In 1849 Johnson sold his share in the ranch and went to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) where he married and had a family. Legal affairs involving his former ranch apparently brought him back to California in 1852, but only temporarily. He returned to his home in Hawaii, where he died in February 1863.
       For more about the history of Johnson's Ranch, see Jack Steed, The Donner Party Rescue Site: Johnson's Ranch on Bear River. Rev. and expanded ed. Sacramento: Graphic, 1993.

Edward Meyer Kern

Age: 23

       Draftsman with Fremont's 1845 expedition. After the Bear Flag Revolt (June 1846) Kern commanded the garrison at Sutter's Fort with the rank of lieutenant in the California Battalion. He was appointed to manage the funds collected for the Donner relief. Kern was regarded with scant respect by members of the relief parties; uncomplimentary remarks about his behavior were appended to the Ritchie-Tucker First Relief Diary, and many years later R. P. Tucker recalled Kern strutting about "as big as the dog in the Smok hous."  Kern's papers dealing with the relief of the Donner Party are located at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. They were published in Eberstadt, Edward, ed. A Transcript of the Fort Sutter Papers, Together with the Historical Commentaries Accompanying Them. New York: De Vinne Press, 1921.

Sebastian Keyser

Age: [36]
Fourth Relief

       A native of Austria, Keyser was trapper who had gone overland to Oregon with Sutter in 1838 and later joined him at New Helvetia. In 1845 he settled on Bear River as a half-owner of William Johnson's ranch. The following year he married Elizabeth Rhoades, sister of John and Daniel; she left him for a while, but they were reunited. Keyser sold his interest in the ranch in 1849 and operated a ferry over the Cosumnes River, where he was drowned in 1850, leaving one child.

Perry McCoon

Age: [25]

       Said to have been an English sailor, McCoon had come to California in 1843 or '44 and established a ranch on the Cosumnes River. McCoon owned a schooner and transported the Second Relief across the Sacramento River. He did not, as has mistakenly been said, propose to Virginia Reed, but did marry a Donner Party survivor, Elitha Donner (see her entry).

William McCutchen

Age: [30]
Second Relief

       Donner Party member (see his biographical entry). McCutchen had gone ahead to Sutter's Fort with Charles Stanton to get supplies, but became ill and was unable to return. When McCutchen and Reed attempted to rescue their trapped families in early November they were forced to turn back by the snow. Their next attempt, the Second Relief, got through in February. McCutchen found that his daughter Harriet had died; he and Reed reburied her remains.
       On their return from the lake with their charges, the relief was caught in a blizzard that raged for three days and nights. McCutchen labored heroically to keep the fire lit. At one point he became chilled and stopped to warm himself. It wasn't until the skin of his back scorched that he realized that the fire had burned through all four of the shirts he was wearing.

Hiram Owens Miller

Age: [29]
Second Relief

       Overland emigrant of 1846 who started out as a teamster for the Donners, then went ahead with the Bryant-Russell Party. (See his biographical entry on the Teamsters page.) Miller joined Reed as a member of the Second Relief. During the blizzard that caught the rescuers and refugees at Starved Camp, Miller's hands became so cold that when he tried to split some kindling, the skin of his fingers cracked open. After the storm finally abated, he carried Thomas Reed out of the mountains to safety.

Riley Septimus Moutrey

Age: [22]
First Relief

b. abt 1824
m. 14 Jun 1846 to Mary Lucy Lard (b. abt 1830, d. July 1923)
d. 7 Dec 1910 in Santa Clara Co., CA

       Overland emigrant of 1846, a teamster for Fielding Lard, whose daughter he married en route. Their wedding was noted by diarists Edwin Bryant and J. Quinn Thornton. Moutrey, whose name is spelled in a variety of ways, settled in Santa Clara County. He gave an account of the First Relief to a newspaper reporter in 1888 while he was petitioning Congress unsuccessfully for compensation for his efforts in the Donner Relief.

Howard Oakley

Age: ?
Second Relief

       According to one source, Oakley was a Mormon who sailed from New York with Sam Brannan in the Brooklyn; this is probably an error, however, as his name is absent from other Brooklyn passenger lists and his name is not elsewhere mentioned in Mormon records. He was living in San Francisco when the call went out for volunteers to rescue the Donner Party. Oakley and his wife Mary Ann are mentioned in the early alcalde records of Santa Cruz in 1848, but what became of them afterwards is presently unknown.

Edward Gantt Pyle, Sr.

Age: 61

b. 09 Sept 1785 in Virginia, son of William Pyle, Jr. (b. 1755 in MD, d. 28 Dec 1814 in KY) and Lucretia Keyes (b. abt 1765 in VA, d. abt 1810 in Lexington, KY)
m. 16 Jan 1807 in Washington Co., VA Rosanna McMahon (b. 04 Oct 1789 in VA, d. 20 Apr 1848 at Sutter's Fort, Sacramento Co., CA)
d. 15 Oct 1875 in San Jose, Santa Clara Co., CA

       Overland emigrant of 1846, mentioned several times in Jacob Wright Harlan's memoir. By an interesting coincidence, "Old Man" Pyle was a first cousin of Margret Reed of the Donner Party -- his mother, Lucretia Keyes Pyle, and her father, Humphrey Keyes, were brother and sister. It's doubtful, however, that the two emigrants ever knew of their relationship.
       The Pyles were living near Sutter's Fort when news of the Donner Party's plight arrived. Edward Sr. did not accompany any of the relief parties up into the mountains but rather helped transport supplies to meet the First Relief on their return. He is listed on Kern's payroll as serving 19 days and earning $28.50. Like many other emigrants of 1846, Pyle and his family settled in Santa Clara County.

Edward Gantt Pyle, Jr.

Age: 22

b. 18 Aug 1824 Monroe Co., IN
m. 16 May 1847 to Mary Ann Graves
d. May 1848 in Santa Clara Co., CA

       Overland emigrant of 1846. Like his father, Edward Jr. was hired to carry supplies to meet the First Relief. He was helping to escort the survivors out of the foothills when he proposed to Virginia Reed. Edward Jr. is listed as serving 27 days and earning $40.50.
       In May 1847 Edward married Mary Graves of the Donner Party; a year later he disappeared. His body was not discovered until the spring of 1849. He had been dragged behind a horse, and, when that failed to kill him, had his throat cut. The murder made a lasting impression on the inhabitants of Santa Clara County and many different versions of the story were recorded long after the event. See Donner Party Bulletin No.12 for a contemporary (and more accurate) newspaper account.

James F. Reed

Age: 46
Second Relief

       Donner Party member (see his biographical entry). Although his reputation has been subject to some controversy, there is no denying Reed played a major role in the rescue of the Donner Party. After a grueling journey to Sutter's Fort, Reed turned around after only two days' rest to take supplies back to the wagon train that had banished him. The snow defeated him and he was forced to return until conditions were more favorable for another attempt, but in the intervening months he continued publicize the plight of the emigrants in the mountains. As a result of his his efforts, the people of San Francisco had already raised money and were organizing a rescue party when news of the Forlorn Hope arrived from Sutter's Fort.
       At age 46, Reed was the oldest of the rescuers who went into the mountains. During the blizzard at Starved Camp most of the men quailed while Reed worked himself into a state of exhaustion; Miller and McCutchen labored for two hours, chafing his limbs and rubbing him, to revive him.

Daniel Rhoads

Age: 25
First Relief

b.7 Dec 1821
m. 8 Oct 1843 to Amanda Esery
d. 4 Dec 1895

         Overland emigrant of 1846 and son of Thomas Foster and Elizabeth Forster Rhoads. Daniel and his brother John were living in the vicinity of Johnson's Ranch when the Forlorn Hope arrived with news of the Donner Party's dire situation. They joined the First Relief; see Daniel's 1873 account, which he dictated for historian H. H. Bancroft.
       Daniel was a rancher in central California; he abandoned his Mormon roots and became a member of the Methodist Church. His adobe home in Kings County is California State Historic Landmark 206. See the Rhoades Genealogy Page for more information about the family.

John Pierce Rhoads

Age: 28
First and Fourth Reliefs

b. 5 Oct 1818
m1. 5 March 1837 to Matilda J. Fanning
m2. abt 1852 to Mary Murray
d. 20 Dec 1866

       Son of Thomas Foster and Elizabeth Forster Rhoads and overland emigrant of 1846. John participated in the first and last relief parties. He was remembered with much gratitude by Naomi Pike, whom he carried out of the mountains in a blanket on his back.
       See the Rhoades Genealogy Page for more information about the family.

Matthew Dill Ritchie

Age: 40

b. 19 April 1805 in Pennsylvania
m. 23 Sept 1823 to Caroline Matilda Allen
d. 20 August 1874 in Napa Co., California

       The family name is also spelled "Ritchey," but it's unclear how the Donner rescuer spelled it himself. Given the title "colonel" from his service in the Black Hawk War, M. D. Ritchie and his family were overland emigrants of 1846. They arrived in California too late to find a permanent home, so they lived at Johnson's Ranch during the winter of 1846-47. In February 1847, Indians helped Forlorn Hope survivor William Eddy stagger up to the first white person he saw at Johnson's Ranch, Col. Ritchie's teenaged daughter Harriet. She burst into tears and helped the exhausted wayfarer into the family cabin while the Ritchies got help and set out to rescue Eddy's companions.
       Ritchie started out with the First Relief but turned back. He began a diary of the expedition, which he turned over to
Reason P. Tucker to continue. Ritchie later moved his family to the Sutter's Fort area but left for Sonoma in September 1847, and in 1850 moved to Hot Springs Township in the upper Napa Valley, where Ritchie Canyon is named after him. After 15 years of farming he moved once more, to the town of Napa, where he died in 1874, leaving 32 grandchildren.

William Dill Ritchie

Age: 19

b. 22 Feb 1828 Warren Co., Indiana
m. Oct 1848 to Sarah Graves Fosdick
d. 30 May 1854 near Sonoma, Sonoma Co., California

       An overland emigrant of 1846 and son of Matthew Ritchie, William was hired to take supplies to the First Relief as they came down from the mountains. He served for 19 days and earned $28.50.
       A year and a half later, William Ritchie married the widowed Sarah Graves Fosdick of the Donner Party -- see her entry on the Graves family page for more details -- and they made their home on a farm in the Napa Valley.
       About May 5, 1854, three mules went missing from a ranch on Santa Rosa Creek, miles away in neighboring Sonoma County. The owners instituted a diligent search and wrote to the postmasters of various towns describing the mules. Ritchie was arrested up in Shasta City for the theft but claimed he had received the animals in payment of a debt. A small group, which included John Cyrus, Ritchie's brother-in-law, went to retrieve the prisoner and brought him south to Santa Rosa. Sonoma was then the seat of the county where the theft occurred; the local authorities were taking Ritchie there for trial when, on the night of May 30, a group of armed men took custody of the prisoner. His body was found the next morning hanging from an oak.

Joseph Sels (or Foster)

Age: ?
Fourth Relief

       Joseph Sels' surname is spelled variously as Sells, Sel, and Sell; he sometimes went by the surname Foster; and is also referred to as "Jack the Sailor." Other than that he was a sailor, next to nothing is known about him. Like Coffeemeyer, he visited Sutter's Fort several times between May 1847 and March 1848, but after that nothing further appears.

John Sinclair

Age: ?

       A Scot by birth, Sinclair had worked for the Hudson's Bay Company in Oregon and had been the editor of a Hawaiian newspaper before his arrival in California in 1839. He lived on the Rancho del Paso two or three miles north of Sutter's Fort, across the American River. Sinclair served as the Alcalde of the Sacramento district from 1846 to 1849, and it was in this capacity that he became involved in the rescue of the Donner Party.
       In January 1847 Sinclair first heard of the "sufferings of the California emigrants" when a messenger arrived from Johnson's Ranch. Sinclair helped organize the relief and took in several of the refugees. Eliza Donner remembered her arrival with her sisters at Sinclair's late one day in March 1847. Although the house was already crowded, Mrs. Sinclair found a place for the little girls to sleep: she pulled up a corner of the rag rug, laid down fresh straw, and put the rug back over them as a blanket.
       Sinclair was remembered as a very intelligent man, fond of grog; he was friendly with the Reed family and generally well esteemed. He died in 1849 on board a steamer en route to the United States.

John Schull Stark

Age: [30]
Third Relief

Parents: William Stark (b. abt 1780 in VA?, d. 1816), m. 11 May 1802 in Bourbon Co., KY to Leah Shortridge (b. abt 1783 in VA)

b. abt 1817 in Wayne Co., IN
m. 26 Mar 1840 to Mary Jane Ritchie (b. 16 Sept 1824 in IN, d. 3 Nov 1910 in Colfax, WA)
d. 28 Jul 1874 Coyote Valley, Lake Co., CA

       A son-in-law of Matthew D. Ritchie, Stark single-handedly rescued members of the Breen, Graves, and Jacob Donner families from Starved Camp. He was a large, strong man who weighed 220 pounds. John Breen wrote,

To his great bodily strength, and unexcelled courage, myself and others owe our lives. There was probably no other man in California at that time, who had the intelligence, determination, and what was absolutely necessary in that emergency, the immense physical powers of John Stark. He was as strong as two ordinary men. On his broad shoulders, he carried the provisions, most of the blankets, and most of the time some of the weaker children. In regard to this, he would laughingly say that he could carry them all, if there was room on his back, because they were so light from starvation.

       According to H. H. Bancroft, Stark was county judge of Napa Co. 1850-51; a member of the legislature in 1851 and 1855-56; 1851-68 lived near Calistoga; lived in or near Guenoc, Lake Co., from 1868 till his death.
       McGlashan adds that Stark was sheriff of Napa Co. for six years and that he died instantaneously of a heart attack while pitching hay from a wagon. John and Mary Jane Stark had 11 children, six of whom were alive in 1879.

Charles Stone

Age: ?
Second Relief

       Little is known about Stone; he was one of the three vigorous young men -- "the boys," Reed called them -- who arrived at the lake camp a day ahead of the rest of the Second Relief. Reed left him to take care of the handful of emigrants at the lake camp, but Stone disliked the look of the weather and deserted, along with Charles Cady. What became of him afterwards is uncertain, but H. H. Bancroft believed that he may have been the individual named Stone killed by Indians in Lake County in 1849.

John Augustus Sutter

Age: 43
Host, supplier

b. 15 Feb 1803 Kandern, Baden, Switzerland
m. 24 Oct 1826 to Annette D'bold
d. 18 Jun 1880 Washington, D.C.

       Sutter's name was actually Suter, pronounced "Sooter." This spelling and "Suitor" often appear in emigrant diaries and other early documents.
       The Swiss-born proprietor of Sutter's Fort is a well known figure in California history. For details about his life and career, see John Augustus Sutter.
       When Charles Stanton and William McCutchen arrived asking for food for the Donner Party, Sutter supplied dried meat, flour, mules to carry them, and detailed two of his vaqueros, Luis and Salvador, to help. Among the Reed Papers at Sutter's Fort is a document showing the calculations of how much each family owed Sutter for their share of the provisions.
       Sutter's generosity to overland emigrants was legendary, and many others in addition to the Donner Party had reason to be grateful to him. The gold rush destroyed him, however, and he ended his life in obscurity and poverty, two days after Congress awarded him compensation for his losses.

William Thompson

Age: ?
Third Relief

       There are several references to men named "William Thompson" in the records of early California, but it is virtually impossible to determine how many William Thompsons there actually were and which one was the Donner Party rescuer. It seems likely that he was the William Thompson who worked at Nathan Spear's mill in San Francisco in 1845-46.
       During the Third Relief Thompson rescued Frances Donner, for which he was paid $50.00. Since he served in the Donner relief effort for 59 days altogether at $3.00 per day, his earnings totaled $227.00.
       Thompson may also have been the William Thompson who married Lucinda Jane Saunders at Sutter's Fort on 14 April 1847. (It is tempting to identify his bride as the notorious Lucinda who so annoyed Heinrich Lienhard -- see his From St. Louis to Sutter's Fort, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.)
Bancroft reports that a William Thompson, who was killed by a bull in Honolulu in 1850 and had been a resident of California for the previous seven years, may or may not have been the Donner Party rescuer. 

George W. Tucker

Age: 15

b. 15 Dec 1831, Zanesville, OH
m. 01 Jan 1858, to Angeline Elizabeth Kellogg (b. 01 Oct 1838, Plum River, IL, d. 19 Aug 1881, Calistoga, CA)

       George Tucker and his father Reason were overland emigrants of 1846; they were members of the Smith Company, with which the Graves family had traveled before joining the Donner Party.
       Young George and Billy Coon stayed in a base camp in the foothills guarding the provisions and horses while his father and other members of the First Relief hiked up to the Donner camps. In 1879 George wrote a lengthy memoir for C. F. McGlashan. At that time he was living in Napa County, CA, where he was a friend and neighbor of W. C. Graves. George's house is now the visitor's center for the Bothe-Napa State Park.
       George's wife Angeline, a daughter of Florentine Erwin Kellogg, was also an emigrant of 1846. She and her family were among those who took Hastings Cutoff ahead of the Donner Party.

Reason P. Tucker

Age: [40]
First and Fourth Reliefs

b. abt 1807 in Culpepper, VA
m1. 08 Jan 1828 to Delia Compton
m2. abt 1840 to Mary Coleman
m3. 1856 to Elizabeth Newman
m4. 1875 to Mary Thompson
d. 02 May 1888 in Goleta, Santa Barbara Co., CA

       Overland emigrant of 1846; member of the Smith Company, with which the Graves family had traveled. Tucker served with the Donner rescue efforts for 39 days and earned $117.00.
       A granddaughter described Tucker as "six feet three inches tall, very strong, and heavy weight," a man of great determination and always friendly and kind. Louis Keseberg said that Tucker was the only member of the Fourth Relief who showed him any compassion.
       Like many other 1846ers, Tucker settled in the upper Napa Valley, across the road from M. D. Ritchie, but in 1872 lost his extensive holdings when the contract he had entered into in 1848 was declared invalid. He moved to Santa Barbara County and started over. When he died in 1888, Tucker had outlived three of his four wives, by whom was the father of ten children.
       For more information about the Tucker family, see Barbara Neelands, "Reason P. Tucker: The Quiet Pioneer." Napa County Historical Society Gleanings 4:2 (1989).

John Turner

Age: 40?
Second Relief

       John Turner had a long history on the frontier before his involvement with the Donner relief. He had come to California in 1826 as a member of Jedediah Smith's historic first overland expedition. In the 1830s he was a member of several fur trading expeditions led by Michel Laframboise and Ewing Young, and the 1840s found him hunting and trapping in California, often with Old Greenwood. It was on one such trip that he met Edwin Bryant on November 2, 1846. "The swearing of Turner, a man of immense frame and muscular power, during our evening's conversation, was almost terrific. I had heard mountain swearing before," the diarist wrote, "but his went far beyond all former examples. He could do all the swearing for our army in Mexico and then have a surplus."
       Greenwood recruited Turner and other trappers for the Second Relief, led by James F. Reed. A few days after leaving the camps Reed sent Turner, Gendreau, and Dofar ahead to find caches of food the party had left on the way up. That night a three-day blizzard struck; it caused great suffering among the refugees at Starved Camp, and caught the three mountain men, too. Turner was so badly frozen that his companions had to help him out of the mountains. He reportedly died in 1847 after accidentally shooting himself in the knee.

Joseph Verrot

Age: [36]
Auxiliary; Second Relief?

       Verrot, a native of France, arrived in California with Fremont in 1844. After William Eddy stumbled into the Ritchie cabin in January 1847, Verrot was one of the men who went to bring the six other survivors of the Forlorn Hope to Johnson's Ranch. Verrot accompanied the Third Relief as far as Mule Springs, taking supplies to the base camp there and returning with the horses. Although he is not named in other documents, it seems that Verrot was also a member of the Second Relief, as he is listed as a purchaser some of Jacob Donner's goods at Alder Creek on March 2. He, too, is mentioned as visiting Sutter's Fort numerous times in 1847 and 1848.

Selim Edward Woodworth

Age: 32
Naval officer appointed to direct the relief effort.

b. 27 Nov 1815
m.14 February 1856 to Lizanne Flos
d. 29 Jan 1871

       A son of Samuel Woodworth, author of the immensely popular poem and song "The Old Oaken Bucket," Selim E. Woodworth held the naval rank of "Passed Midshipman" -- basically a lieutenant who had not yet received a commission. The Secretary of the Navy sent him overland bearing dispatches to the Pacific Squadron in Oregon. The "energetic young officer" left Independence, Missouri, on May 14, 1846, "intending to get to his journey’s end in just one hundred days, if it be in the power of horse flesh to accomplish the distance in that time."  He achieved his goal, arriving in Oregon on August 19, just 98 days after setting out.
     On his way Woodworth met author Francis Parkman and emigrant John R. McBride, both of whom left not entirely flattering descriptions of him. McBride wrote, "Because he was in command of the party he seemed to think it his duty to exercise his authority on all subjects, even if he were ignorant of them." Francis Parkman "rode to Westport with that singular character, Lieutenant Woodworth, who is a great busybody, and ambitious of taking command among the emigrants." These and other remarks are found in Overland in 1846, p. 98-99 and 102-03.
       After reaching Oregon and delivering his messages, Woodworth continued to San Francisco, where, on February 6, 1847, he attended a meeting to "rais[e] contributions for the relief of a party of eighty unfortunate emigrants, who had lost their way in the mountains and were dying there from hunger and exhaustion." Woodworth volunteered his services and was put in charge of the expedition. He organized men and supplies and, as befitted a naval officer, took them by boat across the bay and up the Sacramento River, fighting wind and water all the way. He missed his rendezvous with James F. Reed, dallied at Johnson's Ranch, and failed in his promise to take provisions and meet the Second Relief. Although a severe blizzard may have given him an excuse for the latter lapse, the Donner Party survivors and rescuers who suffered through the storm without food or shelter remembered him as a braggart who let them down.
       William C. Graves was particularly embittered. Of the five members of his family abandoned at Starved Camp, his mother Elizabeth and little brother Franklin died and were cannibalized there; Nancy survived, but she was emotionally scarred after learning that she had been given her own mother's flesh to eat; and Jonathan and baby Elizabeth died within a few months of their rescue, a fact which Graves blamed on the privations of the previous winter. Some of this tragedy might have been avoided if Woodworth had met the Second Relief with supplies as promised. Graves' opinion of Woodworth was also soured by the fact that when he arrived at Woodworth's camp, the Navy man was drunk. Margret Reed wryly remarked to her daughter Virginia that it looked like the survivors would have to take care of their rescuer, instead of the other way around. Graves also believed that Woodworth had sold supplies intended for the Donner Party and pocketed the money; this must have been particularly galling, since the secret of where Mrs. Graves had hidden her family's wealth died with her at Starved Camp, rendering her surviving children not only traumatized orphans but paupers as well.
       John Stark told Graves an amusing story. When after great hardships Stark brought Mrs. Breen to Woodworth's camp, she mentioned how they had suffered. "Woodworth said to her you may thank me Mrs. Breen for your safe delivery. Thank you I thank no boddy but God and Stark and the Vergin Mary she said. Putting Stark second best and I think he deserved it."
       On his return from the mountains, Woodworth reported for duty and was ordered to join the Warren at Monterey. Later he assumed command of the Anita and spent the remainder of the Mexican War transporting men, munitions, and supplies to various ports between San Diego and the Columbia River. Woodworth may not have been at his best on the plains and in the mountains, but at sea, at least, he seems to have been appreciated -- one of his men, William R. Grimshaw, remembered him as being "as noble hearted a man and as thorough a seaman as ever trod a deck" and even named one of his sons Selim Woodworth Grimshaw.
       In 1849 Woodworth was elected to the state senate from Monterey and resigned his naval commission. He moved to San Francisco, where he carried on a commission business. Between 1851 and 1856 he lived on Red Rock Island in San Francisco Bay in a cabin he had built there. Woodworth served the Union Navy during the Civil War, attaining the rank of commodore. He again resigned in 1867 and returned to San Francisco, where he died in 1871.

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